Salesforce.com plans to announce a new application on Tuesday that lets companies create enterprise social networks where they can interact with customers and partners.
Salesforce.com already offers Chatter, an application for building social networks where employees can collaborate internally. The new Communities application uses the Chatter technology to create external-facing networks.
"Salesforce Communities lets you bring together customers, partners and employees into one or more communities," said Doug Bewsher, senior vice president of Chatter.
These external networks can be set up for various purposes, including as customer service hubs, as marketing sites for promoting products or events, and as partner sales support communities.
A company needs to have a Salesforce.com license to set up a community, but the other participants don't need to be Salesforce.com customers.
Through integration with Salesforce.com's core CRM (customer-relationship-management) system, Salesforce Communities lets users capture data from the social networks and add it to existing CRM files to help generate sales leads, improve customer support and involve product development teams, for example.
Like all Salesforce.com applications, Salesforce Communities is a cloud-based service.